Recognition night-- the gym bleachers all pulled out, the kids lined up in the first three rows and the parents sitting stiffly behind them. Before us, a podium and a table with a stack of certificates and a small pile of goldish pins. We lined up in alphabetical order, sat and conversed blankly. Indifferent.
Somebody turned on the mic and got us to all be quiet and introduced Deb Markowitz as our inspirational speaker, up from Boston where she'd spent the past two days-- and all I could think was, I'm so sorry. Because we're going to whisper through your speech and not remember a thing you say and all you want is to get home.
And she started talking about how dedicated we all are, how we work hard and make our teachers proud and isn't that just wonderful. And since we can maintain grades above a B+ then we'll be the leaders of tomorrow and all win the nobel peace prize. 'Cause look at us, all these smiling-- apathetic-- young faces filled with potential and self-satisfied self-loathing and aren't we great. This kid Nitchie behind me, talking about how short she is, how she looks like a doll and she has to bend the mic stand down into an S so it'll pick up her voice and I want to turn and hiss Shut up, Nitchie. Because she drove here straight from Boston and we don't care. And her speech is so fucking patronizing and they don't care. Because it's supposed to be inspirational and make us leap up and do something with our lives and we don't care.
She ended her speech and we applauded and the principal started reading out the names of the freshmen with a GPA of 3.5 or higher. Alphabetical order. Name after name after name. And then the sophomores; the three names of my friends who weren't there-- the girl who's a genius with words, the girl with her heart so full of worry and love it's spilled into her lungs and given her pneumonia, the girl who's not a girl but nobody outside can recognize that-- my friends, these people I love who are so strong and whose names were read in three seconds and their certificates set aside face down in a pile to be mailed, these certificates with the pixelated printed signatures, half only in black and white because the printer ran out of colored ink and Do you know what I'm gonna do with my certificate? It's gonna go into a pile of papers in my room and eventually get recycled.
The end of the sophomores' names and the obligatory applause. I clapped fiercely with a mixture of apathy and anger, hands slapping at each other with enough force to make the sound ring out through the gym-- frustrated-- wanting-- needing-- some tangible gesture of rebellion. Shut up, Nitchie, nobody wants to listen to your insults, your jokes; shut up, Academic Boosters giving us certificates to prove we're just special enough to have a high GPA, and shut up, yes, shut up, even Deb Markowitz; we don't work hard so adults can tell us Good Job. We work hard because we have been trained to do so, trained to hate ourselves when we don't, trained to train ourselves to fear the very concept of Not Good Enough so that you can give us a piece of paper and maybe a pin and tell us we'll go far in life. Because we're so fucking talented. Because we're leaders. So our classmates should look up to us. So we should train them too.
We're proof the system works. We are a success.
And they're so satisfied.
Look at us, a row of numbers, 3.5+ GPAs lined up to get our certificates, shake a moist hand, walk back to the bleachers and sit down--
What have these past three years of hell been for?